Missing Fay is set in Lincolnshire, and concerns the dissapearance of a fourteen year old girl from one of the local council estates. Fay’s own story is interlaced with that of six locals, who have been connected with her in some way. I noticed this in a local bookshop, and thought it sounded interesting: after all, it’s semi-local, it promises mystery and topical comment.
My personal reaction, however, was one of disappointment. From the first section, told by David (an eco-warrior from New Zealand), I wondered “What does this have to do with Fay?”, and that , I suggest, is the fundamental problem with this book. None of the people featured had much of a connection with the missing girl. In the case of David, as far as I could tell, the only connection is that he saw the poster and offered to put one in the window of his camper van. While I was not expecting typical crime fiction, or a police procedural in a missing person case, I was nevertheless hoping for a little more concern for the girl, and some attempt to discover the facts behind the case. Similarly, although there are some connections between the other characters which narrate the story, these too are tenuous to say the least. Ultimately the characters have no more in common with each other, than thay do with Fay.
Without such connections, the novel reduces to six character studies. I believe the author is well known for writing about a wide range of characters. Most of these are no exception, they are a diverse group and imaginitive yet believable; unfortunately, I was unable to relate to, or to admire any of them. While I might have some sympathy with David’s environmental concerns, I found him too dogmatic and felt sorry for his children. Each of the characters narrates their story in a different way, which is authentic, although the heavy use of ‘stream of consciousness writing’ made it difficult to read. Interestingly, probably the best written was that of Cosmina, the Romanian girl working as a care home assistant.
Despite these criticisms, this book still offers a good portrait of the communities in and around Lincoln (a city which, I understand, does not often feature in novels). The bleak and often poverty stricken nature of the area is captured particularly well, as are some of the topical concerns; immigration seems a perennial favourite. Here, again, its Cosmina that I feel sorry for, working in a minimum wage job with no security and unable to use her skills. Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that the poverty of the Ermine estate (apparently a real place) should coexist with boutique children’s clothes shops in a historic cathedral city.
In summary, the author is well know for writing about a diverse group of characters, and this is no exception. He is also a versatile writer, and his books do not follow a set pattern. However, I would have preferred a stronger plot, more continuous narrative, or at least stronger connections between the diverse characters. On the ultimate question of Fay’s whereabouts, the book has little to say. Given that her coat was found covered in blood, presumably she is dead, but this is far from certain. As the blurb on the back of the book asks “Is Fay alive, or dead? Or somewhere in between?” I would have to give the latter answer. Neither firm possibility has been proven, nor discounted.